By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
Often in cinema, as in life, silence is the most honest and sincere form of expression. “Fireflies” (2017), a short film of seventeen-minutes and twenty-one seconds from director Raouf Zaki and writer Charles Hall, is well-aware of the harrowing nature of such effects. It utilizes this on-screen with only the barest hint of dialogue. In turn, Zaki’s exertion magnificently demonstrates such visceral prowess. This is through many sparse, but swiftly effective, motions. For instance, a question raising glance from an employee to a customer. This arises a mere instant before the worker draws an unexplained X mark on a nearby calendar. As this bit is repeated, the meaning becomes vastly apparent. Yet, such an approach enhances audience intrigue grandly. Best of all, it also continues to project the untampered sensibility of watching life unfold. Such is pivotal. This is when maximizing the impact of a tale such as this one.
Much of the endeavor is composed of such quietly compelling and reenacted segments. Proof of this can be unveiled in a brief bit where our lead, Marwan (in an aptly honed and nuanced portrayal by Essam Ferris), wordlessly prays in a hotel room. We are also provided several cases where he appears both distant and uncomfortable. This is while being surrounded by the hushed discussion and laughter. Such erupts among others in the Boston café he frequents throughout the presentation. Zaki, via his brilliant and meticulously nuanced direction, wisely intercedes these serene circumstances. This is with a sudden terrified scream, a cry of pain or a sharp, attention-garnering explosion. These haunting flashes stem from the tragic flashbacks Marwan intermittently endures, unbeknownst to others, throughout the arrangement. Because of this, the piece becomes a rousing statement on an even larger topic. This is how the horrors of the past can shatter the presumed peace that surrounds our current state. It is also a masterclass on an entirely different plane. This is in its ability to delve intimately and authentically inside the mind-state of our protagonist. Simultaneously, the configuration operates on as a timely assessment of another psychological condition. This is that which, sadly, courses through a small fraction of the American mentality. Such is unveiled in its plotline. This concerns the suspicions cast from a headwaiter (in a terrific depiction from Mitch Fortier) towards our reserved, Middle Eastern central figure. Such transpires as he finds himself repeatedly returning to the aforesaid coffee bar.
It is a bold theme. But, it is treated organically and respectfully. Moreover, the brief exercise spellbindingly accomplishes an incredible balancing act. This is by dealing with the topic of judgment from others. Such transpires without ever becoming disapproving or overly critical itself. Such only augments the sobering, intelligent and mature traits inherent in the proceedings. This is as a courtesy of Hall’s beautiful, hauntingly penned and delicately structured screenplay. It is also just as much the consequence of Zaki’s stupendous behind the lens involvement. The result is a smooth, naturally paced endeavor. It is one that never abandons its human, character-oriented center. All the while it effortlessly culminates an emotional resonance. This is without ever being overly melodramatic or manipulative to do so. A great example of this would be the heart-wrenching, bittersweet and exuberantly made climax. The imaginative and eye-popping concluding acknowledgments section which follows only augments the wonder at hand.
These components are made even more elegiac and profound. This is when combined with combined with the cinematography from Kenn Gonneville. The editing from Paul Stamper, Steven Kaldeck and Zaki is equally proficient. The visual effects from Stamper and Kaldeck are seamless. They are also as persuasive as the meticulous manner of storytelling issued herein. Correspondingly, the sound work from Kevin Daggett and Jeff Majeau is also rousing and impressive. Kelton Vuilleiumier’s set decoration and Chirin Ashkar’s costume design is fantastic. The same can be said for Lori Grenier’s hair and make-up contribution. Outstanding input is provided from the camera and electrical crew. The art direction from Laurel Cunningham-Hill and production design from Hana Zaki are just as sensational.
This RA Vision Productions release, recorded in various areas of Massachusetts, also boasts magnificent acting all around. Nour Bittar as Syrian Mother and Rina Hassani as Syrian Daughter orchestrate top-notch representations. Their scant turns are nonetheless memorable. Kevin Daigneault as Unemployed Man, Harry McGuire as Bartender and John Melczer as Refugee Man generate a similarly terrific influence. The nine individuals credited as Restaurant Patron, Logan Raposo as Businesswoman and Brian Douglas Young as Guitarist #1 and William Bento as Guitarist #2 continue this striking trait. Additionally, Brooke Farrington as Refugee Young Girl, Christine Nordstrom as Refugee Woman, Christine Hunt as Mother and Judy Nadel as Daughter are also exceptional. Maurice Viteri as Buff Man, Yasmine Sabrah as Lead Singer Restaurant and Vanessa and Natalie Garnhum as Selfie Girl #1 and #2 respectively are also remarkable.
The outcome of these shining facets is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most impassioned presentations of 2017. This is a triumph of artistry and of inward peering life. Zaki takes imagery from the everyday, such as the constant hum and crackle we hear from a glowing red vacancy sign or a woman incessantly uttering “Check” into a microphone, and makes them perpetually mesmerizing. There is a semi-detached, thinly hallucinatory quality to these episodes. Such establishes a magnetic illustration to bystanders. It is a skillfull rendering of the way Marwan himself might be mentally perceiving such manifestations. This is as he evaluates his own existence as well as the world around him. Ultimately, this is one of the various reasons why “Fireflies” works so uncommonly well. It is because it yearns for us to look both inward and outwardly. Not only does it do this with restraint and dignity, but it does so with an unshakable, melancholy power. Such makes an already profound chronicle more insightful. Relatedly, the symbolism revealed in the appearance of the title insects heightens this factor immensely.
Zaki has a lot to say about the human condition. He transfers these ideas in a fashion that is clear and direct. This is also done without coming off as artificial or detracting from the unveiling fiction. Such makes this even more of a gripping triumph; a rousing tour de force. For both the cinephile interested in seeing an exhibition of sheer craft as well as those who want to perceive existence through someone else’s eyes: This is mandatory viewing.